Farm Ireland

Sunday 19 November 2017

Farmers need weather to pick up immediately

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

"Woe piled on top of woe."

This was how one farmer described the current scene at farm level and Caitriona Murphy's reports on pages 1 and 2 support this view.

Farmers are being hit with what you could be termed 'the perfect storm' at the moment – except that there is nothing too perfect about it.

Atrocious weather, fodder shortages, soaring feed bills and tighter merchant and bank credit mean the crisis that began last summer is now coming to a head on many farms.

Reports from the marts confirm that farmers are already reacting to the worsening crisis by offloading stock.

Cattle numbers in the marts are well up. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for prices, with plain stores – particularly those from the dairy herd – back by €50 to €100/hd over the last 10 days as buyers shy away from cattle that would take longer to finish.

The absence of any real grass growth has compounded the problem. George Candler of Kilkenny Mart summed the current difficulties in the trade very succintly when he said the recent price falls could be attributed to "a lack of grass and a lack of brass".

The weather has also hit dairy farmers in the pocket, with co-ops reporting sharp falls in milk solids.

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It is clear many farmers are struggling to cope. Poor fodder quality has exacerbated the wider feed supply problem and this has certainly been a factor in the 20pc hike in cattle losses during January and February.

The ICMSA has called on the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, to make an application to the EU Solidarity Fund to provide financial assistance to farmers – and there is certainly a case for doing so. Meanwhile, the IFA has asked co-ops, feed mills and banks to stand by their farmer customers.

Unfortunately, the likelihood either happening is fairly slight.

Feedback from farmers confirms that extending credit with merchants and co-ops is proving extremely difficult. It is hard to blame merchants in many cases, given the size of bills that are already outstanding. One merchant pointed out that an increase of 3,000t of feed from the mill required €1m in working capital.

Farmers are now being advised to convert outstanding bills with merchants and co-ops into term loans with the banks. However, this might not be an option for many.

Farmers can only hope and pray for an improvement in the weather to get them out of this latest hole.

They can also help one another, as Eddie Downey of the IFA pointed out: "Farmers should take stock of what winter fodder they have, and if they have surplus they should make it available now to those who are in short supply."

Irish Independent